Chapter 24: The First Exploration Team
Gathering as many subordinates as possible was the plan Zhen Jin and Zi Di had agreed on after discussions. This was why she had advised him to save Huang Zao.
Although Huang Zao’s actions had caused many mishaps to occur, the end result was much more pleasing. Both Huang Zao and Lan Zao had become Zhen Jin’s servants. If things had gone according to the plan, the brothers would only be recruited and they would still have had freedom but now that they had become servants, they had lost their freedom.
These brothers were Bronzes. Servants with this level of strength were valuable. Of course, Zhen Jin did not have a reliable way of binding them right now, such as a contract of servitude. In these circumstances, he could not make unreasonable demands of them.
Huang Zao and Lan Zao had surrendered to him as his servants and because of their influence over the team, it made the others also choose to follow him. As a result, he was able to gain control over the exploration team.
Huang Zao was good with a halberd while Lan Zao was good with a scimitar. These two were the strongest in the team. Among the rest, there were two archers and one crossbowman and a mix of swordsmen, spearmen and shieldbearers who numbered thirteen. Including the unarmed old scholar, there were a total of nineteen people in the team. According to Cang Xu, when they first set out, the team consisted of about forty members but now, less than half remained.
These people had very poor defensive equipment. Huang Zao and Lan Zao wore leather armor while the rest only had linen clothes. Basic necessities were not in short supply and each team member carried sufficient food and water. Zhen Jin learned all this from Cang Xu.
“Since this mountain spring is drinkable, I would like you to instruct some men to gather more water. Half of the oil can be discarded,” Zhen Jin gave the first order.
“Yes, my Lord.” Cang Xu courteously withdrew from the tent. This tent was brought by the exploration team and the two brothers had personally pitched it. Zhen Jin could take a nice rest here.
Just as Cang Xu left, Zi Di lifted the tent flap and walked in. “My Lord, this old scholar of ours is not simple,” she said. While Zhen Jin had summoned Cang Xu for an audience, Zi Di conducted a preliminary interview with everyone else. From their words, she reconstructed a rough outline of the truth.
So was it due to Cang Xu’s analysis that Huang Zao and Lan Zao realized they were in trouble? Zhen Jin chuckled as he listened to Zi Di’s report. It seems the trophies we got from the spiders intimidated these bunch a lot. He sighed from the bottom of his heart. One must not overestimate nor underestimate others.
The outcome of this incident was quite good, but the whole process prompted Zhen Jin to reflect deeply on himself. He had overestimated Huang Zao’s character and did not suppose he might have been withholding information. It was his wishful thinking that Huang Zao would submit to him because he saved his life. But, in the end, Huang Zao fled, abandoning his saviors. Later, due to immense pressure, two brothers capitulated and sold themselves into servitude.
Was it because they were both genuinely repentant? Perhaps. But more likely, they were forced to because of Zhen Jin’s and Zi Di’s great strength as well as their deep background.
The others? They were happy to have Zhen Jin as their leader. Why? Zhen Jin was strong. In such a dangerous environment, would the best survival strategy for the weak not be to depend on the strong? Zhen Jin also had the identity of a Templar Knight, and the fact that he had gone out of his way to save Huang Zao further convinced them that despite his young age, he was someone they could trust as a leader.
The most eye-catching of them all, however, was the old scholar Cang Xu. He had served a noble family for over thirty years and must have learned the wisdom of nobles in surviving and scheming. He was without battle strength yet had the respect of the entire exploration team. Even the two brothers just about obeyed him.
When Huang Zao told his story, Cang Xu was able to immediately perceive the status of Zhen Jin and Zi Di with great acuity. The exploration team followed his directions and headed back where they proactively surrendered themselves to Zhen Jin.
Huang Zao and Lan Zao became his gifts to Zhen Jin. Even though they had become servants, they were still grateful to him. Ostensibly, the words he spoke to Zhen Jin were putting in good words for the brothers but, in reality, he was making a transaction. Cang Xu took the initiative to join Zhen Jin which allowed the latter to smoothly accept these two as Bronze servants. In return, Zhen Jin gave him ample compensation. In the new power structure, Cang Xu was ranked third after Zhen Jin and Zi Di.
Zhen Jin’s first order was for him to lead a group to gather more water. This was the youngster’s response to Cang Xu who joined him. He maintained his guard against him while at the same time being appreciative of him.
He knew he needed this kind of talent at his side. Cang Xu could not be looked at as just a scholar. Any ordinary peasant could knock him down. However, he had knowledge and wisdom that ordinary people could only hope to have. Knowledge and wisdom were also a type of strength. An intangible strength.
“My memory being incomplete and my inability to use battle qi must be kept a secret for now,” said Zhen Jin.
Zi Di nodded repeatedly with a solemn face. “I understand, my Lord.”
Zhen Jin had only just taken control of the exploration team, and there were still potential dangers. If these subordinates found out he could not use battle qi, would that not lead to ill will? With battle qi off the table, the difference between cultivation ranks in terms of physical capabilities was not that great.
Regarding the Bai Zhen motto, Zhen Jin only now understood what it meant in depth. Although he was now the leader of the exploration team, his grasp over the team was still weak. Ensuring complete obedience was not possible.
“Go make arrangements to call in each member of the team one by one. I will speak to them alone in this tent,” Zhen Jin instructed Zi Di before she left.
* * *
When Cang Xu returned to give his report, he was stopped outside by Lan Zao and Huang Zao who were guarding the tent. “Lord Zhen Jin is currently speaking to Bai Ya.”
Cang Xu was stunned. He knew Bai Ya. He was a youngster with a cheerful smile. The son of a hunter, not an outstanding member of the exploration team. “Did Bai Ya do something wrong?” asked Cang Xu.
“No. Every member of the team is to meet Lord Zhen Jin to be interviewed,” replied Lan Zao.
Cang Xu could not help but be greatly interested in this. “What is His Lordship asking them?”
Huang Zao shrugged. “Not much more than their personal background, family status, personal strengths, and information about the shipwreck, and this island.”
At this moment, the tent flap lifted open and Bai Ya walked out in a spirited mood. “Ah, it’s Mr. Scholar,” Bai Ya greeted first.
“Judging by your manner, it seems Lord Zhen Jin has treated you favorably?” Cang Xu said with a smile and nod.
Bai Ya broke into a grin. “No, that’s not it. Lord Zhen Jin promised everyone that as long as we performed well, we might be able to follow him and join him in White Sands City! At the very least, we can become a guard in White Sands City.”
“Isn’t this what you wanted? You got to do well, kid,” said Cang Xu as he patted Bai Ya on the shoulder.
Bai Ya nodded and enthused, “I will work hard!”
After receiving the go-ahead from Lan Zao, Cang Xu entered the tent once again and met Zhen Jin. “My Lord, as per your instructions, we discarded half of the oil and used the containers to store water,” he respectfully reported.
“Good, you did well. Go and rest. After lunch, there will be a meeting to discuss the course of our journey, so you should prepare well.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Cang Xu bowed and withdrew. After exiting, he stood by the tent and observed.
The people who followed him to gather water were also summoned. Each one did not stay in the tent for long, but when they came out, the looks on their faces were noticeably different from before they entered. Even the eyes of the usually unsmiling gleamed. Cang Xu took a deep look at the tent and smiled as he whispered to himself, “This is good.”
Not all strong individuals had the talent to be a leader. In Cang Xu’s opinion, it was rare for such a young man as Zhen Jin to have a cultivation of at least Silver. It was likely he had spent most of his time cultivating. This took time and effort, and therefore, it was natural to assume his other qualities such as learning and leadership to be poor.
But now it seemed that Zhen Jin had at least passable leadership skills. The youngster was not yet the City Lord of White Sands. As such, he could create promises of a beautiful future out of thin air for the team members who chose to follow him. The hearts of the people were gathered under him, the morale of the team was uplifted and his control over the team was deepening.